The gospel declares God’s grace comes through faith. So if you wanted to undermine the gospel, there are two ways you could do it:
1. attack grace – put price tags on it or obscure it by referring to it as a mere “doctrine”
2. attack faith – either make it a work or diminish it, belittle it
I usually talk about grace, but today I want to talk about faith because grace without faith is worthless:
For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. (Hebrews 4:2)
The gospel is true whether you believe it or not but it won’t benefit you unless you believe it.
For instance, if you don’t believe Jesus has forgiven you, you won’t walk in his forgiveness. And if you don’t believe that in Christ you are already holy and acceptable, you will feel pressure to make yourself holy and acceptable.
Faith does not compel God to forgive us or sanctify us. Faith doesn’t make God do anything. Rather, faith is a positive response to what God has done. Faith is acknowledging every good thing that is already ours in Christ (2 Pet 1:3).
Faith doesn’t make things real that weren’t real to begin with, but faith makes them real to you.
For instance, if you battle with guilt and condemnation, you don’t need Jesus to come and take away your sin. You need to believe he already did. Jesus is the cure for guilt, but until you believe it, you won’t be cured.
Faith is being persuaded
Why am I saying this? Because there is a teaching going around that says, “Everyone is saved whether they believe it or not.”
Never mind that the apostles preached, “Believe and be saved” (Acts 16:31, Rom 10:9). Suddenly, encouraging people to “repent and believe the good news,” as Jesus did, is politically incorrect. It’s discrimination. It’s putting barrier gates in front of the kingdom.
Perhaps you’ve heard this: “Believing is a work and grace and works don’t mix.”
What a strange thing to say. It’s like saying “grace and faith don’t mix” or “grace comes through unbelief.” I wouldn’t waste your time with this but I’m hearing this a lot. Maybe you are too. So how do we respond? What does the Bible say?
Now we who have believed enter that rest…. (Hebrews 4:3)
Faith is not work, faith is a rest. Faith is a noun, not a verb. Faith is being persuaded that God is who he says he is, has done what he said he’s done, and will do what he has promised to do. Consider Abraham, who…
…did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:20-21)
Faith is being fully persuaded. When you are fully persuaded, you can rest. The issue is settled. Your mind is made up and your heart is at ease.
We are creatures of persuasion. We are designed to operate from our convictions.
Either you will be convinced that Jesus is true or you won’t be. If you’re not convinced, you will waver and stagger in indecision but don’t panic. The Holy Spirit is here to convince you about Jesus so you can be persuaded and enter his rest.
This is what the Holy Spirit does – he points us to the Prince of Peace so that we may find peace for our weary souls.
Unbelief is a work
When you have seen the beauty of Jesus, faith comes easily. Unbelief is the harder choice. To fold your arms and lock your jaw as the goodness of God assails you from every direction requires real commitment.
Unbelief is not passive ignorance. Unbelief is hardening your heart to the manifest goodness of God. Unbelief is cursing that which God has blessed and hating that which he loves. Unbelief is resisting the Holy Spirit and clinging to worthless idols (Acts 7:51, 14:15, 19:9).
I am not talking about people who haven’t heard the gospel. I’m talking about those who encountered the love and grace of God and have rejected it. Instead of opening the door to the One who knocks (easy), they’ve locked it, pushed the chairs and table up against it, and shuttered the windows (hard). Instead of reclining at the table of his abundance (easy), they’re scrounging for food in the pig pen (hard).
Look at how unbelief is described in the New Testament and you will find plenty of verbs or action words.
Unbelief is rejecting Jesus (John 3:36) and denying the Lord (Jude 1:4). It’s thrusting away the word of God and judging yourself unworthy of life (Acts 13:46). It’s suppressing the truth (Rom 1:18) and delighting in wickedness (2 Th 2:12). It’s turning away (Heb 12:25), going astray (2 Pet 2:15), and trampling the Son of God underfoot (Heb 10:29).
And how does Jesus describe unbelievers? As evildoers and workers of iniquity (Matt 7:23).
It takes hard work to succeed as an unbeliever. You need to apply yourself with religious dedication. It’s a life-time commitment with no days off. You cannot afford to drop your guard even for a moment lest Jesus might sneak up and hug you.
If faith is a rest, unbelief is restlessness. It’s wandering in search of what God has already provided:
And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:18-19, KJV)
Faith is a gift
There are two ways to get this faith-thing wrong: (1) tell people they must work to prove their faith or (2) tell them they need no faith at all. The first is the message of graceless religion, the second is the message of faithless philosophy.
In contrast to both, the gospel declares that the faith you need God will provide. Indeed, the gift of grace comes wrapped in faith (Rom 10:17).
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:29-30)
In a world of heavy burdens, Grace comes offering rest. Unbelief says, “Leave me alone, I’m busy.” But faith responds, “Rest, you say? I’ll have some of that, thank you very much!”
For anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest (Hebrews 4:10-11)
The gospel is not an invitation to pick up tools, but to drop them. It’s not a job advertisement, but a holiday. It’s not a day of work; it’s a day of rest.
Grace declares, “It is finished, the work is done,” and faith responds, “Thank you, Jesus!”
Faith is not something you must do or manufacture. Faith is resting in the restful persuasion that God is at rest and in him so are we.